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Venezuela: a proposal from Brazil and Colombia and an opposition candidate. Will he be the final candidate?

The Venezuelan situation is becoming more complicated as the date set for the presidential elections that must take place in 2024 approaches. On this occasion, in addition, the table includes public demonstrations by the presidents of Brazil and Colombia, who met last week in the Colombian capital and produced a joint document in which they make a particular proposal in the face of the Venezuelan crisis: that of holding a “plebiscite” to agree on guarantees for the security, life and political rights of whoever ends up losing elections.

To understand the complexity of the situation from which this proposal by the presidents is produced, it should be described as follows: while opinion polls indicate that the popularity of the government led by Nicolás Maduro does not exceed 20% of Venezuelans , and that the opposition gathers sympathies between 60% and 80%, Maduro controls all the institutional mechanisms that allow him to proclaim a victory that is shaped by carrying out massive pre-electoral fraud. However, as the moves that are part of the fraud are carried out, disqualification of parties, disqualification of candidates, obstruction of the electoral registry, tensions and fears grow that a scenario of social outbreak or implosion could be generated even within the Maduro bloc itself. The cost of fraud increases.

This situation worries the region, including the leaders with the greatest affinity to the government of Caracas, who have proposed the holding of this “plebiscite” whose feasibility must be viewed with great care. Is it necessary to hold a plebiscite to agree on something that is expressly stated in the Constitution and the laws? Not in principle. However, given that the Maduro government’s respect for the law is relative, diffuse and selective, perhaps it could make political sense to carry out a kind of democratic reaffirmation exercise. It happens, however, that holding a plebiscite, when the ink of the Barbados agreements is still fresh and these have been openly violated by Maduro, has obvious risks, insofar as it could be intended that this plebiscite implies a postponement of the date of the elections.

What we have described as a massive pre-electoral fraud has a central and obvious actor, Nicolás Maduro, but it also relies on other actors, the most active being the National Electoral Council (CNE). Indeed, the CNE has been key in the implementation of this mechanism of violation of the political rights of Venezuelans. On the one hand, this organization, whose raison d’être is the active promotion of voting as a fundamental tool for the exercise of political rights, has decidedly worked to limit and hinder it. An example of this is what relates to voting abroad, established by the Constitution and which, however, the CNE makes its exercise impossible in practice, by imposing supervening and illegal requirements, such as having to prove legal residence in the country of destination and, additionally, that it is permanent and issued one year in advance. These requirements, absurd in that they place the power to determine the nationality of a Venezuelan in certifications issued by another state, are extremely efficient in removing millions of voters from circulation. In Colombia, with almost three million Venezuelan migrants, at least one million would be able to vote: it is unofficially estimated that it is highly unlikely that even a thousand citizens have managed to register to do so; the CNE prevented the rest from doing it.

On the other hand, the CNE not only decides who can exercise their right to vote: it also seeks to illegally decide who can be elected. The candidate María Corina Machado was victorious in the primary election held by the opposition, but the Supreme Court of Justice, another central actor in the massive pre-electoral fraud perpetrated against Venezuelans, has decided that before respecting the right of the voters who voted for Machado, almost three million, it is a priority to defend Maduro’s will, and it has “disqualified” Machado, with an opaque, illegal and unexpected measure. Later, Machado, given the material impossibility of participating in the election, presented the option of Dr. Corina Yoris, who was also unable to register her candidacy. On this occasion, there was not even an official position from the CNE, an argument, a reason: the electronic system simply did not allow her name to be registered, although it did allow that of other candidates.

Thus, the opposition has decided to present the name of ambassador Edmundo González, who is registered as a candidate. To date, the democratic opposition has successively presented three candidates, and the government of Nicolás Maduro has illegally prevented two of them from participating. Will candidate Edmundo González suffer the same fate? With the events developing, and numerous threats to the possibility of holding free and fair elections that respond to internationally accepted criteria, the reestablishment of the rule of law in Venezuela is experiencing a critical moment, and the international community must be alert, maintain their gaze on the country and contribute to the generation of real conditions of democratic openness. The recent statement from the presidents of Brazil and Colombia is an example of regional concern, and must be taken into account, regardless of the viability of the plebiscite proposal.